On security, raises, janitorial services

Published 10:19 pm Tuesday, February 25, 2014

By Linda Bouchard

In light of the public’s deep interest in the issues the Suffolk School Board has been discussing recently, I would appreciate the opportunity to make clear my position on several of them, namely: the use of resource officers, a pay raise for teachers and the outsourcing of maintenance services.

Regarding the use of resource officers: I am not opposed to having security in our schools. On the contrary, I think it is vital that our children feel safe and secure in the school environment.

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However, our present system does not make sense to me. As it stands now, we will be paying more than $500,00 next year for police officers we have little control over. These officers work for the Suffolk Police Department, not us. They can be called away at any moment without our having anything to say about it.

Furthermore, they wear intimidating uniforms and carry guns. When I see a police officer, I do not immediately think, “Now here’s someone I can build trust with, someone who will protect me.” No, I think, “There is a scary person who can hurt me if I step out of line.” And I am a 66-year-old grownup.

Our school system would be better served hiring our own security officers, preferably people who have retired from the police or sheriff’s department. We can save more money hiring part-time workers than paying a full-time salary to officers requiring health insurance benefits.

And if these officers wear golf shirts instead of scary uniforms, the students may actually see them as mentors, not enforcers.

Regarding a pay raise for teachers: I believe that all of our employees, from bus drivers, janitors and cafeteria workers to the superintendent, are deeply involved in the education and care of our children and deserve a pay raise.

However, last year’s bleeding of some of our best and brightest teachers seriously concerns me. They left to make a better life for themselves and their families and because we could not provide it for them. How can we blame them?

But where did that leave us? It left us frantically searching for others to replace them. We cannot compete with larger school systems like Chesapeake and Virginia Beach; we are instead training their teachers for them.

It makes good sense to keep our best teachers for the sake of our children’s future. That is why we should make teacher’s pay raises a priority this year. If the funding is there, and if we are operating an efficient school system, then, of course, all employees should get a raise. All Suffolk City Schools employees deserve a better life.

Regarding the outsourcing of maintenance services: although our board has decided not to explore the cost savings possibly found here, we should revisit this issue. No hard-working custodian should lose his or her job, but we can have cleaner schools without losing a single employee.

I became interested in the subject of outsourcing when I saw its success in Norfolk City Schools and Isle of Wight Schools. We may find that it is not be a good idea for Suffolk, but we should always study the cost effectiveness of every aspect of running a large school system.

We owe it to our taxpayers, the ones footing the bill.

Linda Bouchard is a member of the Suffolk School Board, representing the Chuckatuck Borough. Email her at lbouch2520@icloud.com.